Jan 082011
 
Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman and Ma...
Image by chicagopublicradio via Flickr

As a former beat cop, Ron Huberman, the new chief of public schools in Chicago, learned long ago that violence among young urban people could not be solved simply by hauling ever larger numbers of children off to jail.

With the prompting and support of his boss, Mayor Richard M. Daley, Mr. Huberman is trying a new approach to the violence that has killed and maimed hundreds of young people and turned Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods into precincts of terror and despair.

The ambitious plan will offer mentoring, counseling and jobs to high-risk students. To determine who they are, Mr. Huberman analyzed the cases of more than 500 young people who were killed or wounded in gun violence over the last two years. The analysis suggests that nearly 10,000 of the city’s 113,000 high school students are at risk of becoming victims of gun violence and need help.

Their lives follow a clear pattern. They are absent from school more than 40 percent of the time, on average. They have fallen behind and are more likely to be enrolled in special education. And they generally attend 38 of the city’s nearly 140 public high schools.

None of the shooting incidents studied occurred inside the schools, and most happened well after school hours. But the chaotic schools attended by high-risk students tend to differ from better-run schools in measurable ways. They have fewer counselors and social workers. They have higher rates of suspension and expulsion. They more often involve the police in minor skirmishes, like shoving matches, that then go unresolved.

Mr. Huberman wants to remake the high-risk schools by beefing up the social work and counseling staff, by better training security guards and overhauling a disciplinary process that seems designed to throw out as many children as possible as quickly as possible. Most crucial, he hopes to improve involvement by guardians and parents.

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